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Bible Commentaries

Dummelow's Commentary on the Bible

Numbers 1

Verses 1-54


The First Numbering of the People

At Sinai Moses receives the command to take the number of the males over twenty years of age in the eleven secular tribes, the tribe of Levi being enumerated separately (Numbers 1:47-49; Numbers 3:14-39). The result shows a total of 603,550 (cp. Exodus 12:37; Exodus 38:26; Numbers 11:21). The result of the second numbering, made in the plains of Moab thirty-eight years afterwards (Numbers 26), is 601,730. The credibility of these figures has been disputed on two grounds. First, on this reckoning, the entire population, including men, women, and children, must have been at least three millions, and it is difficult to conceive how this large company could have been supported in the wilderness for forty years, not to mention the difficulty of marshalling and conducting them on their marches. The difficulty is a real one, but it is exaggerated by the traditional view, not supported by Scripture, that the Israelites were continually marching, and that they always moved as one company. To speak of them ’marching through the wilderness’ is misleading: cp. Numbers 9:22. They may have occupied a great part of the peninsula of Sinai, encamping in detachments and moving about in search of pasture, though not simultaneously. The marches mentioned in Numbers may have been those of the main body under Moses: see intro. to Numbers 10:11 to Numbers 22:1. As to the resources of the wilderness, these must not be judged by its present condition. The word ’wilderness’ does not mean a barren tract, but an uninhabited country which may be very fertile. And traces exist to show that this ’wilderness’ not only could but did support at one time an extensive population. Moreover, unless miracles are prejudged to be impossible, account must be taken of the miraculous provision made for the sustenance of the Israelites till the time that they entered Canaan. The second objection is that the number of first-born males is stated in Numbers 3:43 to have been 22,273, again exclusive of the tribe of Levi. But this is a very small number in proportion to the total number of males. In answer to this it may be said that what is meant is the first-born males under twenty years of age at the time of the census, or those that had been born since the departure from Egypt. On the whole, while there are undoubtedly difficulties connected with these figures in Numbers 1, 26, our knowledge of the circumstances is too limited to enable us summarily to reject them as incredible: see on Exodus 14:21.

16. The renowned] rather, ’the called’; chosen representatives.

18. Polls] i.e. heads.

47-54. The Levites are not included in the general census. The tribe of Levi is separated for the service of the tabernacle, and being exempt from military service is enumerated separately: see Numbers 3.

50. Tabernacle of testimony] the tent containing the ark: see on Exodus 16:34.

51. Stranger] here one who is not a Levite: cp. Numbers 3:10 and Exodus 29:33.

53. Wrath] cp. Numbers 16:46; 1 Chronicles 27:24.

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Bibliographical Information
Dummelow, John. "Commentary on Numbers 1". "Dummelow's Commentary on the Bible". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/dcb/numbers-1.html. 1909.